“And although I knew nothing of love, I knew that I had found it, and never wanted to lose it.”
– Entry Island, Peter May
“The Blackhouse” by Peter May blew me away, and I am beginning to realise the flip side of this: I am easily disappointed every time I read another of his books and no matter how good, it just doesn’t measure up.
Entry Island was like that – a good book, fascinating and moving in places, but also long and slow, and narrated gently and without life. (The audio book is excellent for accents and for making each character sound distinct, and the woman sound like woman, but it is utterly without life. whether this is the book or the narration is something to question though.)
Entry Island tells two stories – that of life in the Outer Hebrides in the 19th century during the potato famine and the highland clearances, and that of a criminal investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in his home on a remote Canadian island, the only witness his wife. These are tied by the secret and forbidden love between a crofter’s son and the lairds’ daughter in the past, of whose ancestors find themselves meeting in the present.
I had problems with this book, and the main one was the love story. What was it that endured so long? It never felt convincing, and it never grabbed me. The past was told very matter of factly, and the conversations between those in the past felt like they were talking for the benefit of explaining events to us, the readers, rather than talking amongst each other. It came across as stiff, and awkward. Consequently, the romance suffered. The romance should have been heart breaking – young forbidden lovers who risked everything to be together, and lost each other in a moments chance. But every interaction between them was stale, filled with rigid conversation where they explain history to us – we never saw them simply laughing and enjoying each other. We were told they loved each other, but so rarely shown it. There was no heady feeling of being caught up in their emotions, unable to be without the other. In the end, Kirsty was spoilt and stifled, and Simon was locked in by circumstance. It moved me the thought of them looking for each other in the future, perhaps wanting to have that time to really fall in love though.
In the present, Simon and Kirsty were interesting enough. I felt for Simon – he isn’t a particularly likeable character, but I could understand him and his depression and subsequent insomnia. I thought Peter May did an amazing job of showing depression, and how quickly it can develop without a person even realising it, and how he withheld the labelling of it until the end to match Simon’s own slow awakening to his feelings was brilliantly done. I was not sure about the unsympathetic portrayal of Simon’s estranged wife, but I could understand that as the book was from his point of view that he would paint her as the villainess.
I did feel disappointed that this wasn’t actually a reincarnation book. The whole I have loved you before but do I love you know if my memories aren’t my own is a favourite trope of mine. Simon’s memories were that of diaries he had read, and his journey to discover the past was self-driven and consciously done.
The criminal investigation itself was a little obvious as to where it was headed, so as a thriller it didn’t work. But to be honest, I don’t think that was really the point of the book and I didn’t mind. As a look at a part of history I never knew about, and as a character driven book it just about did work and managed to hold my attention. I just wished there was more passion, I wish I had been on the edge of my seat praying for a happy ending, more caught up in it all. I admit I started this book and dropped it initially, so bored with it all, and only reluctantly picked it back up. The book only really picks up in the middle…and even then it’s the history that gets really interesting.
Oh, and I loved the irish character and how Peter Forbes narrated him. Peter Forbes, as gentle and unassuming as his narration is, really is great with accents.